WAUNAKEE — At 5-foot-4, 105 pounds, Waunakee freshman Tyler Nelson doesn’t necessarily strike an imposing figure on his side of the court.
But Nelson definitely has made his presence felt in his first high school boys tennis season, demonstrating intelligent singles strategy, an outstanding ability to place shots and move his opponent, and quickness covering the court.
In an area with top-flight No. 1 singles players led by seniors Will Tennison of Verona, Ryan Gold of Middleton and Aidan Schutter of Sun Prairie, Nelson has broken onto the scene with strong early play.
Nelson continued that with a 6-0, 6-1 victory over Madison Memorial junior Kevin Li at No. 1 singles Saturday at Waunakee’s Ripp Park.
“It’s been going really well,” Nelson said. “I have played really well, just solid play overall. I’ve had a lot of good matches against tough opponents, which has been a good experience for me just starting the high school season. Obviously, I have had expectations that I want to play well. Not necessarily to win certain matches, but I want to play my best and try my best. And then the matches will come out however they do.”
Nelson, showing off an array of shots, picked up Waunakee’s lone singles victory and the Warriors’ No. 1 doubles team of Max Christian and Shane Paradisin topped Madison Memorial seniors Ryan Weinbach and Santiago Barquin 6-3, 6-3.
But Madison Memorial, ranked 11th in Division 1 by the state coaches, earned a 4-3 dual victory on the final day of the two-day Spartan Invitational, organized by Memorial.
“When you graduate your No. 1 singles player (WIAA Division 1 state champion Colt Tegtmeier), it always shakes up your team a little bit,” Spartans coach Joe King said. “But I have been really happy with our team. We have a nice, athletic group and nice mix of guys who are back and guys who are stepping up playing varsity for the first time.”
Eighth-ranked Middleton, led by first-year coach Tony Mirasola, defeated fourth-ranked Green Bay Southwest, 4-3, and Lake Geneva Badger, 6-1, on Saturday and finished 4-0 in the eight-team event. Sixth-ranked Sun Prairie defeated Madison Memorial, 6-1, later in the day, and each team finished 3-1.
The 15-year-old Nelson, who started playing at age 7 and loves the individual aspect of tennis, grew up in a family of tennis players. That includes his uncle, 1997 WIAA Division 2 state singles champion Todd Bishop, and his grandfather, former Sauk Prairie coach Paul Bishop.
“Nothing rattles him,” Waunakee coach Chris Nuenthel said of Nelson. “If he loses three points in a row, he’ll try to get the fourth, fifth and sixth. … The mental aspect is huge. You see a lot of people when they are under stress they start yelling and get emotional. You don’t see that from him. He just goes back to work. He’s a smart player — strategic, probably from his grandpa.”
Nelson said he learned many of his tactics from grandfather, who goes over strategy with Nelson prior to matches. Nelson said one successful tactic he’s relied on is taking a defensive posture, luring the opponent to the net and hitting a winning passing shot.
“I’ve never been an offensive player,” Nelson said. “Attacking isn’t usually my strong suit, so playing the defensive game is always what I’ve done.”
Nelson — who improved to 10-1 with the only win for Waunakee (0-4 in the invitational) in a 6-1 loss to Green Bay Southwest later Saturday — has grown accustomed to playing older and stronger players.
“A lot of the players I am playing are a lot taller, so keeping the ball low against them has been an effective strategy — mixing it up and keeping them on their toes will make it difficult for them,” said Nelson, whose record includes a victory over Schutter this season.
Said King: “He has excellent ball control. He has a really good plan in terms of what he’s doing on the court. He waits for you to get out of position and then takes advantage. He’s a very smart player.”
Singles victories from junior Albert Men at No. 2, senior Joey Rhodes at No. 3 and sophomore Michael Yao at No. 4 helped Memorial top Waunakee and complete a sweep of its three matches in Pool B, prior to the Spartans traveling to Sun Prairie.
“We are balanced this year,” King said. “I like our depth.”